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The Rich History of Hispanic Heritage Month 

A time to honor Latinx and Hispanic communities. 

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  • Photo Credit: Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Latinx population is around 63.7 million people, or 19.1% of the total population—making it the largest racial or ethnic minority in America? There’s no wonder why Latinx people throughout history have made and continue to make a massive impact on American culture, whether it’s by introducing delicious, flavorful food, influencing art, architecture, and music or helping fuel the American economy as business owners, entertainers, and blue-collar workers, to name a few types of roles. 

The immeasurable contributions that the Latinx community has provided are celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month. Although we should always honor and respect Hispanic and Latinx communities, history and culture all year long, from September 15th through October 15th, we provide additional acknowledgment and appreciation for Hispanic and Latinx culture. Keep reading to learn more about how Hispanic Heritage Month started being observed, why it’s celebrated starting mid-September, and how you can commemorate the holiday!

How did we begin celebrating?

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  • Cesar Chavez flanked by two Brown Berets while speaking at a Los Angeles peace rally.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Latinx refers to anyone descended from Latin American countries, whereas the term Hispanic specifies those who have a connection to Spain or a Spanish-speaking country. So now that we know who we are celebrating, when and how did this month-long festive occasion get started? 

It was first introduced in June 1968 by California Congressman George E. Brown, who represented East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, which both had a large population of Hispanic and Latinx community members. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, many people were starting to be more vocal about the need for representation of the multicultural diversity of our nation. 

Therefore, on September 17, 1968, Congress passed a law requesting the president to issue annual proclamations declaring September 15th and 16th as the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Week. President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president to issue a proclamation for Hispanic Heritage Week, calling on “people of the United States, especially the educational community, to observe such week with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

Hispanic Heritage Week becomes Hispanic Heritage Month

Now you may be thinking, “I thought it was Hispanic Heritage Month? Not Hispanic Heritage Week.” And you would be correct! It wasn’t until 1987 that U.S. Representative Esteban E. Torres of California expressed that to “properly observe and coordinate events and activities to celebrate Hispanic culture and achievement,” they should expand the observance from a week to a month. 

Then, in 1988, Senator Paul Simon of Illinois submitted a similar bill that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on August 17, 1988. At last, on September 14, 1989, President George H.W. Bush became the first president to declare the month-long National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration would begin on September 15th.

Why does it begin in mid-September?

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  • Papel picado in Querétaro, México.

    Photo Credit: Featured photo: Arturo Ochoa / Unsplash

Instead of covering one single month, Hispanic Heritage Month spans across September and October. Many people might be curious as to why it’s set in a seemingly random set of weeks. The intention was to make this timeframe align with the many Central American countries that celebrate their independence days within this time period. 

Starting on September 15th, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua commemorate their independence, while Mexico celebrates on September 16th, Chile on September 18th, and Belize on September 21st. Deciding to emphasize these dates that signify their home country gaining its hard-won freedom further highlights the determination and courage of the Hispanic and Latinx communities.

Why is it important to acknowledge this month?

It’s important to acknowledge the positive impact that diverse cultures add to the beautiful melting pot of America to combat the often racist, Eurocentric rhetoric that relies on destructive stereotypes to defend discriminatory political views. As so many have rightly said, representation matters. 

Individuals’ accomplishments deserve to be honored, especially when their achievements have brought about transformative change and have changed our country for the better. We have a responsibility as global citizens to educate ourselves about different cultures to foster understanding and give credit where credit is due for the literature we read, the food we love, and the music we jam out to on our playlists.

How can you celebrate?

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  • A couple dancing folklórico.

    Photo Credit: Featured photo: Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernández / Unsplash

There are a multitude of different ways you can celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. After all, it is a month-long affair, so you can definitely squeeze in more than one of the following suggestions! Not only can you celebrate by learning more about important historical figures like activists, artists, writers, politicians and scientists in the Latinx and Hispanic communities, but you can also learn about their cultural traditions like quinceañeras or Día de los Muertos. If you’ve never tried authentic Latinx food or heard traditional ranchera music, or watched a folklórico performance, here’s your opportunity!

If you’re looking to learn more about the culture but feel overwhelmed about where to start, you can always check out the National Hispanic Heritage Month website, where you’ll find information on art, history, politics and poetry from the Latinx community. If you want to actually experience cultural events, whether in person or virtually, you can go to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino. If you’re unable to attend these events, you can check with your local library or museum to see if they’re hosting any events (most of the time, these community events are free!). 

But however you end up celebrating, remember to express gratitude toward the communities that allow you to enjoy the wonderful aspects of their culture.